Duck, North Carolina, is a gorgeous beach destination located among the barrier islands known as the Outer Banks. Driving down North Carolina Highway 12, Duck is the northernmost town in Dare County, which also includes the well-known destinations of Nags Head, Kill Devil Hills, and Kitty Hawk. Hunters trekked out past “civilization” since the 1800s to shoot the waterfowl found among the maritime forests and marshes on the remote stretch of land. In the mid-1970s, fishermen and hunting guides set up homes and then more people moved there. It was incorporated as a town in 2002 and named Duck to honor the birds that still populate the area. The town has 500 full-time residents now.
The wide sandy beach stretches 7 miles along the Atlantic Ocean on the east side and the peaceful Currituck Sound runs along the west. The location provides a bounty of fresh seafood for hungry diners who enjoy both casual and world-class dining establishments. The following restaurants range from very casual to upscale and are in no order. In my opinion, even if it’s a fresh donut, if there’s a stunning view, the donut shop is rated five stars.
Note: I was a guest of the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau while visiting Duck, but all opinions are my own. All the restaurants mentioned require reservations for dinner.
1. The Roadside Bar & Grill
The Roadside Bar & Grill is a funky spot open for lunch and dinner six days a week. Located in one of the village’s original cottages, the inside décor reminded me of the galley of a small ship with wood paneling, vintage furniture and signs, and tons of sea glass decorations. The menu offers fresh fish and shellfish as well as vegan dishes, beef burgers, and traditional sandwiches. I ordered a vegan pad-Thai, a rice noodle dish with julienned veggies, and a peanut sauce but I added grilled shrimp. My husband ordered a shrimp Po’boy, but it was anything but classic. It came on a toasted sub roll with spicy Asian slaw, blackened shrimp, and a pasta salad side. We loved both of our choices and while the Po’boy was spicy, we enjoyed the chef’s take on a southern staple. It’s a terrific stop on the east side of Highway 12.
2. Duck Donuts
You may have a Duck Donuts franchise in your hometown, but it started in Duck, in 2007. The DiGilio family loved vacationing at the beach destination, but there wasn’t a good donut place. They started testing recipes, added toppings and opened the first Duck Donuts in town. The original store on the Duck boardwalk serves happy customers daily from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Order online or stand in line the old-fashioned way.
I arrived at the shop at 7 a.m. and a line was forming. I love the system; you get a paper order sheet and mark off your choices. There are so many varieties. I picked a curated box loaded with a dozen customer favorites like cookies and cream — a donut with vanilla icing, Oreo crumbles, and hot fudge drizzle. To create your own, start with a signature vanilla cake donut, and customize with coatings, toppings, and drizzles. When your number is called, you take your box of custom donuts home or eat them there on the boardwalk (I did) with gorgeous views of Currituck Sound. The donuts did not disappoint as we sampled a few. We found that while delicious, some were more desert-like. I enjoyed the cinnamon sugar donut and my husband devoured the cookies and cream.
Pro Tip: Use the app or get in line as close to 7 a.m. as possible.
3. Kimball’s Kitchen
Kimball’s Kitchen, at the Sanderling Resort, is located on Currituck Sound and offers glorious sunset views with an upscale coastal vibe. There’s an entire wall of floor-to-ceiling windows for diners to enjoy the scenery while sipping a glass of wine from the Wine Spectator award-winning wine list.
We started with the Carolina crab soup, a traditional bisque made with lump crab, crème Fraiche, chives and sherry, and the steak house wedge. The iceberg salad, dotted with baby heirloom tomatoes, bacon lardon, Maytag blue cheese, pickled shallots, and a red wine vinaigrette had a satisfying crunch, and both were delicious. I opted for the seafood linguine arrabiata entree. The fresh pasta adorned with Carolina wild shrimp, littleneck clams, lobster, artichokes, capers, and toasted ciabatta overflowed on the plate and had great heat. My husband ordered horseradish-crusted halibut with lemon risotto. The portion of halibut was enormous, and the risotto was delicate, with a light lemon flavor. We selected glasses of wine that paired perfectly with our dishes and enjoyed every bite. We didn’t order dessert, but we will next visit.
Pro Tip: Ask for a window seat.
4. Aqua Restaurant
The Aqua Restaurant menu is inspired by local ingredients from the water and land. It’s a casual spot with live music most nights, great sunset views, a curated wine list, craft cocktails, and exceptional memories.
Our starter, a cheese and charcuterie slate of two kinds of cheese, cheddar, and triple cream and Jambon de Bayonne and Italiana sweet Coppa with fruit, toast, and spreads was delicious. It was generous, so we kept it aside to finish later. Our entrees of lobster fettuccine, fresh pasta with Maine lobster, and a roasted tomato alfredo sauce were surprisingly light and packed with knuckle and claw meat. The pistachio-crusted Scottish salmon served with lemon rosemary quinoa and petit peas in a brown butter balsamic sauce was flavorful and cooked to order. The food was fantastic, and I would recommend a visit to this local favorite.
Pro Tip: Grab a chair outside and a drink to catch the sunset.
Eventide is a unique concept in casual eating and alfresco dining on Duck’s portion of beautiful Currituck Sound. It’s a cheese and sandwich shop with curated wine and beers. Its Duck boardwalk location is the perfect setting for lunch or a sunset glass of bubbly and a light meal. The menu consists of cheese boards, sandwiches, salads, and snacks. There were at least 16 different beer selections ranging from stouts, IPA’s, pilsners, lagers, and ales, as well as 16 incredible wine selections either by the glass or the bottle.
I visited for lunch and ordered a sandwich, a lunch salad, and a glass of Maison Foucher Brut Cremant from the Loire Valley. The sandwich was a classic chicken salad on a large section of baguette, and the salad, dotted with toasted pecans, dollops of goat cheese and sliced honey crisp apples with crisp field greens was a work of art. I enjoyed my sip, savored my sandwich and salad, and took in the view.
Pro Tip: Order a cheese board to take home.
6. The Blue Point Restaurant
The Blue Point Restaurant on Currituck Sound is celebrating 30 years for a reason, it’s that good. Seats are hard to come by because the food is contemporary, fresh, and has a Southern vibe, the bar is fantastic, and the views are stunning.
Our starter of sweet potato biscuits & Edwards Surry ham, shallot marmalade, and watercress were inventive and addictive. The teeny biscuits were sweet while the ham and marmalade were savory. Next, our salad of North Carolina peaches over fresh, creamy ricotta, greens, pickled red onions, and Marcona almonds topped with a sherry vinaigrette was out of this world. Our entrees of a grilled bone-in pork chop and beef tenderloin were cooked to order with perfect accompaniments. Dessert, key lime pie over raspberry coulis with fresh whipped cream sent us home full but satisfied. The bar is lively and fun with craft cocktails and phenomenal wines.
7. Lifesaving Station
The Lifesaving Station, at the Sanderling Resort, has one of the “Best breakfasts on the Outer Banks.” It resides in the old Caffey’s Inlet Lifesaving Station No. 5, and the nautical theme is present throughout the charming interior. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are served daily in the casual indoor/outdoor space which has a seasonal, southern coastal menu.
We enjoyed lunch on the patio and shared two sandwiches: a blackened tuna BLT served on a brioche bun with pickled cucumbers with wasabi aioli and the fried chicken sandwich topped with gruyere cheese, pickles, on a brioche bun with a side of sriracha mayonnaise. Both sandwiches were incredible. The portions were huge, especially the tuna, and even though it was blackened, it was not too spicy. The chicken was tender and crisp, and the cheese made an unexpected topping. We both got the housemade chips which were fantastic. It was the perfect lunch for a beach vacation.
North Carolina towns and cities are blessed with a variety of great restaurants, some mom and pop, and some feature world-class chefs: